He Will Come to Judge

By Timothy Guess

...when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-9

“The day of the Lord” is a frequently used expression in Old Testament Scripture. It communicated a time of God coming in judgment upon Israel or other nations because of grievous and prolonged sin. Every day belongs to God, but these kinds of days were especially highlighted as “the day of the Lord.” On such days, God's righteous wrath was visibly exercised. The authority of God was obviously displayed. God's power, goodness and justice were vindicated. The New Testament picks up on such expressions (or similar ones) numerous times. Paul noted in the passage above “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed.” Jesus Himself referenced, for example, in Luke 17:24, “...so also shall the Son of man be in His day.” And in 17:30, “Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.”

Judgment scenes and descriptions in the Old Testament are heavy, attention-grabbing and anything but casual. The final judgment will take place when Christ appears again the final time. Pre-cursors or previews of this awesome day are seen in the Flood of Noah's day and in the destruction of Sodom (Luke 17:26-30). God's judgment on Jerusalem (in A.D. 70), which Jesus referenced in numerous passages in the Gospels, is another preview of that final day. I believe all these judgments not only were significant in their time and place according to God's redemptive outworking of history, but they also set the stage, prepare the way and point us towards this final and ultimate “day of the Lord.” Let us note important truths concerning this day.

Christ Revealed

Ever since the resurrection and ascension of Christ, believers throughout the ages have sung about Him, talked about Him, praised Him, confessed to Him, and delighted in Him. Unbelievers have ignored Him, denied Him, and even cursed Him. But on this day, all will see Him! He will be revealed. The same one who died and rose again is the very one whom God the Father has ordained to finally and decisively judge the world (Acts 17:31). So, I think we can safely conclude that there will be no arguments on that day about Jesus. There will be no ignoring Him. Why not? Because He will be revealed plainly and openly. His supreme authority will be visibly displayed and unquestioned. His pure righteousness will be manifested. His bright glory will be devastating to His enemies.

The truth is, this is exactly how it ought to be. It's God's world, after all! Human beings have offended God's perfect and righteous character even though He has been generous, kind and patient with humanity. God's Son has been despised and rejected. It is only right that God's justice be exercised and His Son be vindicated. What a day it will be...to think about the devastating judgment of the Flood and Sodom and then to recognize, “those were only previews!” If you are like me, you have to admit that when thinking about such things there are emotions of awe, respect, relief, but sometimes a sense of discomfort.  It is not comfortable to think of other human beings suffering the righteous judgment of God for eternity. It is not comfortable, but Divine judgment is always good, appropriate and righteous. The truth is, God's glory is displayed both in the salvation of His people and in the judgment of the wicked. When Christ is revealed and exercises judgment, it will be for the glory and honor of God.

A Stark Contrast

In Paul's writings in Thessalonians and other New Testament references to this day, the reader is struck with a contrast. The Biblical writers often look at the same event from different angles. From one angle (as highlighted in Dan Beauchamp's article) we see this day in relation to those who are in Christ with its joy, relief and forever deliverance. But, the other looks at it in relation to those who are outside of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:3 anticipates this day as one in which the wicked feel safe and secure...then sudden, inescapable destruction comes upon them. In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks of a great division that will take place: the division between the sheep and the goats. Ever since the fall of Adam, the believer and unbeliever have lived together in same world. But all that will change. The righteous will enter glory; the wicked will be cast into everlasting punishment.

In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul notes that this day will mean Jesus being glorified in His saints and admired in those who believe (v.10) and He will take vengeance in flaming fire on those that “obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.8). A stark contrast indeed! Here is the reality: those who will be condemned have treated Jesus and His cross as fraudulent or irrelevant or insufficient. Those who reject the gospel are essentially saying, “I prefer to face my Maker standing on my own two feet.” Those, who by God's grace embrace the gospel are saying, “I stand before God not on who I am or what I have done, but only on what Jesus has done.”

Jesus Will Take Vengeance

A Christian pastor is imprisoned in Iran or China. A family and a church are thrown into turmoil as a result. Far away from the world's gaze, a Christian is beaten and tortured in North Korea for sharing the gospel. In the United States, a Christian baker is embroiled in legal trouble and controversy simply for exercising a business practice in line with God's definition of what constitutes a marriage. Things like this happen and have happened over the course of church history because of deep-seated rebellion against God. God and His light are hated and opposed by darkness. As a result, the people of God often suffer injustice and grievous harm. Jesus is not ignoring this!

Our Lord made it clear in connection with the parable He gave in Luke 18:1-8 that He will take vengeance on those who unjustly afflict His beloved people. “And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (Lk. 18:7,8).

God's word specifically commands followers of Christ not to take vengeance on their enemies. Why? Because God reserves that right unto Himself. Though it appears that many injustices go unchecked and unresolved in this world, Jesus will come and make all the wrongs right. He will not be mocked, but will deal decisively with those who have opposed Him, His gospel and His people.

Closing Thoughts

To rightly see Jesus, we must see Him as the righteous Judge. For the believer, this should fill us with humble gratitude that He has opened our eyes. Our plight would be the same as those who reject Him had He not called us by His grace. Furthermore, though we will never have to experience eternal punishment, we will give an account to Christ on that day. The Apostle Paul stated, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ...” (2 Cor. 5:10). The day of the Lord should fill us with hopeful joy that produces a sober faithfulness to Christ.

If there happens to be any who are reading this who are not followers of Christ: please know that Jesus and His gospel are not irrelevant. The reality is, you will one day face God. God rightly deserves your worship and obedience. Yet, you have broken His law. The gospel declares that in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ there is deliverance from the guilt and penalty of sin. God's word declares that all who believe upon Christ—that is, they rely fully on His sacrifice as an atonement for their sins—are not condemned by the Judge, but rather are justified (Acts 13:38,39). Those who prefer to face their Maker depending on their supposed goodness will find the day of the Lord to be dreadful. Those who entrust their souls to the free grace and merit of Jesus will find that day to be glorious and blessed!

Timothy Guess is the Managing Editor of The Baptist Witness and pastor of Collierville Primitive Baptist Church, Collierville, TN